My Way: Speeches and Poems
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In My Way, (in)famous language poet and critic Charles Bernstein deploys a wide variety of interlinked forms—speeches and poems, interviews and essays—to explore the place of poetry in American culture and in the university. Sometimes comic, sometimes dark, Bernstein's writing is irreverent but always relevant, "not structurally challenged, but structurally challenging."
Addressing many interrelated issues, Bernstein moves from the role of the public intellectual to the poetics of scholarly prose, from vernacular modernism to idiosyncratic postmodernism, from identity politics to the resurgence of the aesthetic, from cultural studies to poetry as a performance art, from the small press movement to the Web. Along the way he provides "close listening" to such poets as Charles Reznikoff, Laura Riding, Susan Howe, Ezra Pound, Allen Ginsberg, and Gertrude Stein, as well as a fresh perspective on L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E, the magazine he coedited that became a fulcrum for a new wave of North American writing.
In his passionate defense of an activist, innovative poetry, Bernstein never departs from the culturally engaged, linguistically complex, yet often very funny writing that has characterized his unique approach to poetry for over twenty years. Offering some of his most daring work yet—essays in poetic lines, prose with poetic motifs, interviews miming speech, speeches veering into song—Charles Bernstein's My Way illuminates the newest developments in contemporary poetry with its own contributions to them.
"The result of [Bernstein's] provocative groping is more stimulating than many books of either poetry or criticism have been in recent years."—Molly McQuade, Washington Post Book World
"This book, for all of its centrifugal activity, is a singular yet globally relevant perspective on the literary arts and their institutions, offered in good faith, yet cranky and poignant enough to not be easily ignored."—Publishers Weekly
"Bernstein has emerged as postmodern poetry's sous-chef of insouciance. My Way is another of his rich concoctions, fortified with intellect and seasoned with laughter."—Timothy Gray, American Literature
poem is to idealize a literary space outside of ideology & history, a zone timeless & blank in which evasion substitutes for the friction of interaction. Yet this friction is the music of our lives. The acknowledgment of the performative dimension of poems is a recognition of their political bearing in the world, fully as much as recognition of the theatricality of each of our social performances is a necessary prerequisite for us to find out how these ingrained habits might be changed or
not what I meant at all. Up High Down Low Too Slow Values like the butter on the table melting before the memory of the butter on the table melting: a ring around the four o'clock shadow made with a horseless bark and liltless sigh by an organ grinder peering over the leaning tower formally known as Pisa. Get a rocking chair and put her sequence in it, tie it with the sting of soot & smoke & kerosene, then sucker punch all those blundered trusts cuffed to the caboose of unreturnable rebukes. A
values; it would be as if you tried to teach music only from scores. Poetry readings, along with regular visits by literary artists to graduate and undergraduate classes, can be catalytic, offering an WHAT'S ART GOT TO DO WITH IT? 51 entirely different context for poems than books and anthologies, one immensely more immediate and performative. PSL isn't focussed on just the big nouns; its immersion is into the wide and varied syntax of poetic practice, from popular and folk and novelty to
of invented rather than received form. And, finally, perhaps philosophically most significant to my own work, a breaking down of the barrier between the observer and the observed, description and event, poetry and poetics. HMR: In your essay on "The State of the Art" from your book A Poetics you write: " ... we can't rely on the tools and forms of the past, even the recent past, but must invent new tools and forms that begin to meet the challenges of the ever-changing present." What does history
for if words give a way to envision possible worlds they don't provide the way to inhabit them. Words are what I work with and through which I am made. They are the means of our mourning and of our morning but also of our mooring. There is no place words cannot take us if we don't take them as authorities, with fixed codes hardwired into the language, but as springs to jump with, or as trampolines to hurl ourselves, inward and outward, upward and downward, aslant and agog, round and unrounded. I